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Monday January 23, 2017
Posted: Apr 27, 2014

Determining your competitive advantage

Heart at Work

Sustainable career success is being able to define and articulate your competitive advantage. It's the foundation of your entire career strategy. It's what you do better than anyone else. It helps answer the question, "What should I be doing with my life?

In their book, The Start-up of You, Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha outline the three critical elements that form one's competitive advantage: your assets, your aspirations/values, and the market realities - the supply and demand for what you offer relative to the competition.

Your assets are what you presently have: your strengths, interests and network of contacts. Assets in isolation don't contain much value. A competitive edge emerges when you combine different skills, experience and connections. Moreover, your asset mix is not fixed. You can strengthen it by investing in yourself. If you lack certain assets that would make you competitive, begin developing them.

Aspirations include your deepest wishes, ideas, goals and vision of the future regardless of external forces or your asset mix. They include your core values - what's most important in your life. You may not be able to achieve all your aspirations as they often change over time. You should, however, identify the guiding principles that steer your thoughts and behaviors and that attract you to others with similar values and aspirations.  

Regardless of how strong your assets and aspirations are, if they don't meet the needs of a paying market - an employer, a boss, a client - they don't provide a competitive advantage. Your success depends on employers, clients or partners choosing to buy your time. It doesn't matter how hard you've worked or how passionate you are, if someone won't pay for your services it's going to be a very hard slog. You need to be aware of market realities and to be able to respond in ways that are better, faster or cheaper than the competition.

Assessing and evaluating your competitive advantage is a lifelong process, not something done just once. A good career plan accounts for the interplay of these three elements - your assets, your aspirations ant the market realties. They all need to fit together. Evaluate each element in the context of the others; and do so on a regular basis. Building a competitive advantage in the marketplace involves combining the three elements at each juncture of your career. 

The late Tip O'Neill famously stated that "all politics are local." Similarly are competitive advantages. Find a market niche where your assets shine brighter than the competition's. Carve out a professional niche in the job market by making choices that differentiate you from other smart people.  Find opportunities where there's less competition and stand out.

Over to you...Can you identify your assets and aspirations? Can you find a market - an employer, a client - that will pay you for your skills, experiences and passion? What's your competitive advantage? 

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